News archive 2008

Cardinal Seán Brady’s address to the Irish Primary Principals’ Network Conference 2008

PRESS RELEASE

31st January 2008

Cardinal Seán Brady’s address to the Irish Primary Principals’ Network Conference 2008

Killarney, Co. Kerry

“The needs of society, of preparing for participation in the economy, must not be taken on board

at the expense of the human and spiritual needs of the young person.”

[Thursday, 31 January, 2008:] Today, on the Feast of St John Bosco, patron saint of all teachers, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, addressed the 2008 Conference of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network in Killarney. In paying tribute to the work of generations of teachers, Cardinal Brady reminded delegates that education is about more than communicating information, or preparing children to gain qualifications and contribute to the workforce. Please see press release below which is followed by Cardinal Brady’s full speech:

Cardinal Brady said, “Catholic education is both a sacred and a secular activity. But the needs of society, of preparing for participation in the economy, must not be taken on board at the expense of the human and spiritual needs of the young person. The aim is to produce people of competence, character and conscience: people who play a full role in society – people who have a Christian vision including a concern, not for themselves alone, but for others; people who have deep desire to put their talents at the service of others.

“Teaching value-free facts devoid of meaning and skill is an unsustainable and fundamentally flawed approach to education. Our goal is formation and development: to promote the formation of the whole person; of young people who are able to live in peace, at peace with themselves, at peace with each other, at peace with God and at peace with the environment.”

Drawing on his own experience of teaching in St. Patrick’s College, Cavan, and, more recently, his experience of visiting schools around Ireland and engaging with those involved in their management, the Cardinal continued in empathy with teachers in what he described as their critical and increasingly challenging role in the formation of the “whole person”:

“As Principal teachers you are chosen precisely because you are among the most imaginative and visionary, highly motivated and pupil-centred teachers we have. You are innovators and inspirers, people who have proved yourselves capable and creative in the classroom.

“Yet if my experience of visiting schools is anything to go by, I suspect that many of you are feeling increasingly isolated. You may feel disconnected from that which energises you most. The work of inspiring and forming the mystery of every child: the challenge of creating a warm, effective learning community in the school, while supporting and encouraging parents in their sacred duty to educate their child.

“This should be a matter of concern to us all, especially those with responsibility for resources and policy.

“As Principals you are seen as the vision setters, staff developers, Chief Executives and that is fair enough. You expect all of this in a sense when you apply to become a Principal. But what happens when you are also expected to be the quantity surveyor, the legal consultant, the financial director, the personnel officer, the strategic planner and a wise counsellor and supporter to all of your staff, pupils and even to the local community?”

The Cardinal acknowledged that the State and all the Churches must also face up to the need for diverse provision in a pluralist society, but he re-iterated that the Catholic Church sees education as central to its mission and will continue to be involved in schools. Continuing on this theme, he added:

“I admit to no small frustration when I hear the superficial allegation made that faith based schools are of their very nature divisive and inconsistent with a pluralist society. We are seeing here more a rejection of religion, or a caricature of religion than an approach to education per se. When set against the evidence, whether here or in Northern Ireland, the charge that Catholic or other faith based schools are intrinsically divisive and inconsistent with pluralism, is an ill-informed caricature which simply doesn’t stack up. In fact, it is unjust and offensive to the excellent work and commitment of teachers and others who work in Catholic and other Christian schools. No school can ever become complacent about its Christian and civic obligation to promote tolerance, inclusion and understanding as one of its first priorities. We should even be creative in exploring ways in which we can promote greater cooperation and sharing between all our schools, including different denominational, faith or other forms of school.”

ENDS

Full text of Cardinal Brady’s address:

A Uachtaráin na hÉireann, Minister Hanafin, distinguished representatives and guests of the Irish Primary Principals Network.

Let me begin by thanking your President, Larry Fleming for his generous introduction. I am very honoured by the invitation to be here. I thank your Director Seán Cottrell for his impeccable efficiency. It has kept me so well informed in the run- up to this important event. I commend all those who are involved in organising this Conference. This is a hugely impressive programme of speakers, expos and displays. Truly the IPPN Conference is a worthy celebration of all that is best in the Irish education. Your generous and professional leadership continues to inspire and direct our Irish School system at Primary level. It is not possible to exaggerate the critical role you and the teachers in your schools play in the life of our young people and ultimately in the religious, social, moral and economic formation of our nation.

That we are celebrating all of this in the beautiful kingdom of Kerry, of course, is an added bonus!

I am also particularly pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to you. Today I thank the countless generations of teachers – principals and assistants – who down through the years have helped parents discharge their sacred obligation to educate their children. Perhaps it is timely to underline the fact that teachers and schools help parents in educating their children. The relationship should be, at all times, one of co-operation.

I once heard it said that we learn:

10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we both hear and see
70% of what is discussed
and 80% of what we experience personally.

This was brought home to me recently. Among the letters I received congratulating me on my appointment as a Cardinal, there was one from a pupil I taught in St. Patrick’s College Cavan over thirty years ago. We had not met since. But in his very thoughtful note he reminded me that in school I had once defended him when others were speaking of him in more negative or pessimistic terms. I had no recollection of the event. But I was reminded again of that great maxim of teaching: ‘If you are lucky, children will remember 10% of what you taught them. But they will always remember the type of person you were!’ ‘

I am sure many others of my past pupils would have less inspiring stories to tell, not least those I tried to shape according to my dreams of a future All-Ireland winning Cavan team on the football field. For a teacher in Kerry those ambitions would have been a little more realistic!

There is a weight that bears on every teacher’s shoulders. You are the artisans of the hopes and dreams of future generations. It is humbling and always timely to be reminded of this fact that those generations will remember us for how we treated them and what they experienced of us personally, more than for the facts or formulae we taught them.

This is why there is no more rewarding vocation than teaching the young, whether as a parent or a teacher. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that something you said or did or taught continues to be valued by someone today, continues to shape their life and bring their life some added quality and meaning.

This is also why the greatest danger for any Government, Board of Management, Principal or teacher, is to forget that education is about more than communicating information. It is not confined to preparing children to contribute to the economy or securing qualifications. Yes, education is all of these things, but the ultimate function of education and schools is something else. Its aim is to support parents in the formation of the ‘whole person’ that is the gift and mystery of every child.

When we lose sight of this responsibility to the ‘whole person’ we can so easily become lost. Lost in a functional, administrative or even utilitarian approach to what we do. This can happen at the level of education policy, the management of the school or in the classroom. It is so easy, not least in the current environment of ‘money counts for everything’ and ‘success is the only value worth pursuing’, to lose sight of the magic and mystery – even the fun and satisfaction of teaching and educating the young.

I believe that as Principals this challenge has become particularly acute for you. Even in my ten years as President of the Bishops’ Conference I have become aware of the ever increasing pressures that are bearing upon those who lead and manage our schools.

As Principal teachers you are chosen precisely because you are among the most imaginative and visionary, highly motivated and pupil-centred teachers we have. You are innovators and inspirers, people who have proved yourselves capable and creative in the classroom.

Yet if my experience of visiting schools is anything to go by, I suspect that many of you are feeling increasingly isolated. You may feel disconnected from that which energises you most. The work of inspiring and forming the mystery of every child: the challenge of creating a warm, effective learning community in the school, while supporting and encouraging parents in their sacred duty to educate their child.

This should be a matter of concern to us all, especially those with responsibility for resources and policy.

As Principals you are seen as the vision setters, staff developers, Chief Executives and that is fair enough. You expect all of this in a sense when you apply to become a Principal. But what happens when you are also expected to be the quantity surveyor, the legal consultant, the financial director, the personnel officer, the strategic planner and a wise counsellor and supporter to all of your staff, pupils and even to the local community?

By any standards this is a huge burden to bear. That so many of you bear it with such effectiveness and skill is a tribute to your personal resources and commitment.

As the title of your Conference suggests these internal pressures are added to by the rapidly changing external environment in which we all live and work. The school is not isolated from societal change. In many respects it is the first point at which so many of these changes converge and are experienced.

In Ireland today there are many positive aspects to this change for which I think we should be grateful. These include:

Growing prosperity in our society;
Greater opportunities to travel, to experience other cultures and peoples;
Higher levels of opportunity and choice, not least in education and training;
Immigration on a scale never seen before resulting in greater cultural diversity;
Improvement in communications technology opening up whole fields of information, learning and experience for teachers and children which could not have been dreamt of even ten years ago.

All of these changes are potentially very positive and enriching for our society. However there are also potential downsides which we need to be aware of. These include the:

Increase in materialism and consumerist attitudes in our society;
Growing secularisation of society, even at times a hostility to religion;
Evidence of a growing culture of aggression, not least in young people;
Less respect for institutions in general and for traditional sources of social and moral authority;
Greater strain on parents because of the necessity for both to work;
Increasing problems in families due to many factors – absence of parents, misuse of alcohol, drugs etc;
Increasing challenges to the rights of parents to have faith based schools;
Less coherence between home, parish and school;

This new context has an impact on our schools. The Catholic Church sees education as central to its mission and will continue to be involved in schools. In a pluralist society there is need for diverse provision and this must faced up to by the State and by all the Churches.

This brings me to another issue that looms large in education today and which runs through the theme of your Conference: How should the Irish education system respond to the increasing pluralism in our society?

I think it should be said, because it is not said often enough, that Catholic schools and schools in general throughout Ireland have done a magnificent job in supporting the integration of new individuals and groups from diverse national, religious and ethnic backgrounds into local communities across the country. Our schools have often taken the lead and set the standard for the rest of our society in terms of welcome, tolerance and integration. That is in no small part due to you the Principals of our schools. It is due in no small part to the Christian ethos which already pervades our Catholic and other denominational schools and which is deeply valued by so many parents.

This is why I admit to no small frustration when I hear the superficial allegation made that faith based schools are of their very nature divisive and inconsistent with a pluralist society. We are seeing here more a rejection of religion, or a caricature of religion than an approach to education per se. When set against the evidence, whether here or in Northern Ireland, the charge that Catholic or other faith based schools are intrinsically divisive and inconsistent with pluralism, is an ill-informed caricature which simply doesn’t stack up. In fact, it is unjust and offensive to the excellent work and commitment of teachers and others who work in Catholic and other Christian schools. No school can ever become complacent about its Christian and civic obligation to promote tolerance, inclusion and understanding as one of its first priorities. We should even be creative in exploring ways in which we can promote greater cooperation and sharing between all our schools, including different denominational, faith or other forms of school.

Perhaps other factors – competition, for example – can be a more potent source of social or psychological division between children and parents in a local community than anything to do with religion.

Our fundamental concern should be different; the provision of schools in every sector which are inclusive, cooperating, socially engaged and making an active contribution to the cohesion of the local community. I believe these are the qualities which people from every background in our society want to see and will be anxious to support.

Earlier this week I paid a visit to the parish of Drumcree, in the town of Portadown. There I visited a nursery school, a primary school and a post-primary school. Three of those schools were Maintained Schools – maintained by the Catholic Church. One was a Controlled School – controlled by the state with a Protestant Principal but with a number of Catholic students on the roll.

I must say, the whole morning was a wonderful experience. First we went to the Church of St John the Baptist where about 1,000 people, mostly students, teachers, praised God, in many languages – Polish, Portuguese, Irish, English. We praised God in song, in music, in word. Then I went to the various schools and I saw fantastic work being done by wonderful Principals and teachers, working together, for the dignity of every person. I came away with my heart full of hope and joy.

It was a living reminder to me that the Christian ideal of education is rooted in the vision of love, justice and truth.

The needs of society have to be taken on board. Catholic education is both a sacred and a secular activity. But the needs of society, of preparing for participation in the economy must not be taken on board at the expense of the human and spiritual needs of the young person. The aim is to produce people of competence, character and conscience: people who play a full role in society – people who have a Christian vision including a concern, not for themselves alone, but for others, people who have deep desire to put their talents at the service of others.

Teaching value-free facts devoid of meaning and skill is an unsustainable and fundamentally flawed approach to education. Our goal is formation and development. To promote the formation of the whole person, of young people who are able to live in peace: at peace with themselves, at peace with each other, at peace with God and at peace with the environment. It gives the opportunity to play an important role in the economic and political life of the community. It also empowers young people to make decisions about their lives, about:

v Building and sustaining relationships
v Parenthood
v Community building
v Self-expression
v Enjoyment of leisure.

This is why the challenge of Catholic education today is huge. The goal is the whole person – spiritual, moral, physical, intellectual and an active citizen in an increasingly global economic and political environment. The goal is excellence in education that places the child at the centre of the enterprise.

At this point I am conscious that I am here today in my capacity as a Trustee of Catholic schools, not as a teacher or an educationalist.

A trustee is somebody who is given power of administration of property in trust, with a legal obligation to administer it solely for the purposes specified. In Catholic schools we hold and administer a sacred trust. This sacred trust includes:
· Respecting the people who put our schools there in the first place;
· The people for whom they are now in existence;
· The people for whom they will exist in the future.

It is a sacred trust which we as Trustees, and indeed Principals, are bound in conscience and, in fact, in law, to uphold. It is of critical importance to us because our schools are the principal means of helping parents to fulfil their role in education.

This means that there should always be close co-operation between parents and teachers to whom they entrust their children to be educated.

For my part, I make no apology for defending the right of Catholic parents and others to ensure such education and teaching for their children as is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions, a right recognised in our Constitution and in international instrument of human rights. I uphold the right of the Church, in a free society, to spread the Gospel of freedom, justice and love to parents and to children who in turn freely assent to be members of the Catholic community. I uphold the right of the Catholic Church to create communities of faith around that intrinsic bond between families, parish and the Catholic school. I unapologetically call on Catholic parents to support their Catholic schools as an inseparable part of their baptismal call to bring their children up in the atmosphere and ethos of the Catholic community, rooted in the Gospel of justice, truth, tolerance and love.

None of this is inconsistent with the principles of a diverse and pluralist society. In fact, the defence of all that I have presented here is the mark of a genuinely pluralist and diverse democracy.

As I draw to a close, I am reminded of a famous saying in the Book of Proverbs – it is part of the Wisdom literature and every teacher is in need of wisdom! It says that – ‘Without a vision, the people perish’.

Our schools offer a coherent and compelling vision of life, the person and our eternal future. To sustain and enliven that vision I believe we need to develop an ever deeper spirituality of community which is confident, inclusive and outreaching.

To do this we need to develop the spirituality of the school as a community. We need opportunities to develop a shared vision of every school which includes teachers, Boards, parents and pupils in making the school a vibrant community based on Christian ideals. This includes taking shared responsibility for leadership and management. The Christian community is based on a variety of gifts, all at the service of the one Lord. Where leadership is shared it becomes less awesome, and the role of Principal becomes less lonely and isolated.

Ultimately of course, this appeal for a spirituality of the Catholic school as a community will depend in great part on the personal relationship of every teacher and member of the school community with the Master himself. I invite every teacher in particular to hear the words of the Master: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and you shall find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

By a happy coincidence, today is the feast of St. John Bosco, the patron of all teachers. In speaking as a principal to his teachers one day, he reminded them that the mark of true leadership is that, like the Master, we should be ‘gentle and humble heart’. I suspect in building a spirituality of community, we could all find much to reflect on in that.

In conclusion let me say once again, and in absolute sincerity, how much I admire, appreciate and respect the vital work you do for the children in your care and for our society. To paraphrase Aristotle: The habits we form from childhood make no small difference, rather – they make all the difference. That is the importance of what you do.

I wish you every blessing and the gift of renewed energy and vision over the rest of your Conference. Thank you for inviting me and thank you for listening.

ENDS.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)
    

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